halloween, that naughty pagan holiday

The local cable company has several virtues. It uses a “cable ready” analog transmission system that doesn’t require a converter box (allowing one to easily watch Showtime and tape HBO). It has rock solid home broadband support (from a guy named Nevin). It has The Food Network to warm this food geek’s heart. It is owned by the local municipality, and, so while it may lack a little flash, it is rather cheap.

What it also has, however, is a variety of truly local programming that I sometimes don’t agree with. One such bit of programming is station broadcast from just north of here that I can only classify as a “Christian Right Bible Channel”. This is a station programmed by folks who seem to have a serious problem with evolution and anything else that contradicts a literal reading of the Bible. Now don’t get me wrong; they have just as much right to be on the air as anyone else and speak their piece. I’m just glad that I am not forced to watch this station.

I do catch interesting tidbits every once in a while, between rebroadcasts of The 700 Club, however. Last night, I was scanning over the television listings when I saw something about Harry Potter and Halloween. What it turned about to be was a low budget expose about how Halloween, books like Harry Potter, and shows like Charmed and Buffy The Vampire Slayer are endangering the souls of young people by popularizing interest in the occult.

Of particular interest was the reference to a particular film, Halloween: Trick or Treat?. The lead-in for discussing the movie ran something like this:

On Halloween, your children are dressing up like ghouls and goblins to collect their favorite candy treats in the heart of town. Meanwhile, outside of town, pagans and wiccans dance in circles to contact the spirits of the dead and celebrate the pagan rites of Samhain. Even further out of town, real modern day satanic cult members are sacrificing children to the Prince of Darkness.

Oh, please!

Let us count the number of “hand-me-down” pagan traditions that still survive in the modern Christian world, shall we? Christmas trees. Yule logs. Mistletoe. Easter eggs. Easter bunnies. Phrases like “knock on wood”. Even the use of Sunday as the Sabbath is a relic of the old Roman association of Christianity with the cult of the eastern Mediterranean god Helios — the Sun god.

Me, I’m not going to worry about that. I think I’m going to go to the Halloween fair at the elementary school where Fiancee S. teaches and maybe give out some candy when we get home. And oh yes, pass the candy corn. Candy corn is the best thing about Halloween in my book.

talking about rites of passage

I find it very interesting how the big events in your life can be fodder for communication with strangers. Take yesterday, for example. Fiancee S. and I went to the hotel where our wedding reception will be held, and tasted the food that will be served at our reception (it was delicious for the most part — the “rubber chicken” was most definitely not rubber and definitely chicken.) During the course of doing that, we got into a 15 to 20 minute discussion with the catering representative about her wedding (which was held down in the town where I attended graduate school) and the choices she made. Later when we went to the shiny, new flagship gourmet cooking and housewares store around the corner and mentioned that we were getting married, we had a 10-15 minute discussion with a clerk behind the counter about wedding registries that segued into his desire to live somewhere with dramatic fall foliage.

I can recall when this wasn’t always so. The transition was most dramatic in the year or so preceding the completion of my Ph.D with the year or two after I received my degree. When I was still toiling away in the dark, foul pits of the Dissertation Abyss (complete with “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here” for the Miltonian touch), I would say to people “oh, I’m working on my Ph.D dissertation.” They would usually follow up with something like “that must be hard. what is it about?” I would try my best to put the obscure, esoteric topic of my dissertation into layman’s terms, and a noticable pregnant pause would follow. Once completed, I can recall finding myself at a Christmas cocktail party full of lawyers, doctors, economists and the like in a well-to-do section of a nearby city, and saying “oh, I just finished my Ph.D and I work for Company O.” That elicited an immediate and palpable sense of acceptance from all the other degreed professionals in the room (which was GREAT, let me tell you, after toiling for so long) along with queries about what I did for Company O. and how I thought the computer business was going.

I’m the sort of person who is not the best at idle conversation. I usually enjoy seeing and meeting new people very much, but, I’m not the best at meaningless introductory chit-chat. That usually is what holds me back from being a more outgoing person. So, I appreciate that the major milestones of life can be a major conversational crutch. The process of getting married can be a bore at some times,and irritating at others, but, it also does provide a common link for talking and getting to know other people. For that reason alone, it’s been nice.

make the pie higher

The big news around here today is wedding-related: through some combination of dawning realization and/or nagging by some of Fiance S.’s relations, Fiancee S.’s father has agreed to increase the budget for our wedding. This elicits a great sigh of relief from Fiancee S. and myself. As solid estimates of costs began to appear for many of the ‘basics’ of the event (reception catering, photography, transportation), we rapidly became aware of the fact that we would either:

  1. have to trim the guest list of about 60 people who seemed certain to show up, or
  2. increase the budget.

So, in the words of our oh-so-eloquent President, we “made the pie higher.”

Today is full of wedding-related business. I get to skip out of work early this afternoon as we are having a “tasting” for our wedding reception.I just wrote the photographer we want to use to get a final confirmation on prices and costs. We will also be visiting a vintage jewelry store to begin the wedding band shopping process.

Life always seems to have a way of filling up time. At one point, dating takes up a lot of time. At another, the planning of wedding takes a lot of effort. Children often arrive after that and need time and attention. Through it all, paid employment beckons.

Should life be more simple than that?

Somehow, I think not.

the p. diddy entertainment awards

In a press release today, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs’ production company “Bad Boy Productions” annnouced that it would be producing a major new entertainment awards show to be carried by a yet-to-be-announced major TV network. The subject of the awards would be a hip mix of topical categories designed to engage a wide number of artists and celebrities from a variety of fields. To illustrate the scope and depth of talent that the awards would attract to the ceremony, a Bad Boy Productions spokesman provided the following list of award categories associated with celebrities who might have won in years past:

  • Best abs in a movie or video with halter top — Britney Spears, Shania Twain, Janet Jackson
  • Best sex-related court appearance — Hugh Grant, R. Kelly, Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee
  • Best fashion outfit that makes underwear impossible — Rose McGowan, Jennifer Lopez, Toni Braxton
  • Best use of a wedding dress — Madonna, Dennis Rodman
  • Most evocative tattoo — Tommy Lee, Ozzy Osborne, Christina Aguilera
  • Best poparazzi assault — Tommy Lee, Bruce Willis
  • Most original pimp outfit — Chris Robinson, Ice T, Kid Rock
  • Most interesting visible thong strap — Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera
  • Most famous for nothing but being famous — Kato Kaelen, Paris Hilton, Carmen Electra
  • Biggest cradle robber — Harrison Ford, Michael Douglas, Bill Wyman

The exact date, time, or network presentation of this award show was not available at press time. Bad Boy Productions did express the sentiment that E! Entertainment Network was the logical carrier for the event, provided that a court order barring Joan and Melissa Rivers from being closer than 50 yards to the red carpet was on file.

Godparenting

It seems that Fiancee S. and I are going to be Godparents. I wrote here last month about my admiration for my cousin J. and his wife K. It seems that they hold Fiancee S. and me in some regard as well, because they asked us to be the Godparents to their newly born daughter (their third child) Baby Ka.

Fiancee S. and I are thrilled. I believe she is thrilled because it really makes her feel like one of the family. For me, it draws on many fond childhood memories. J. and I grew up around the corner from each other and used to play together (along with his brother Jo.) often as children. It also continues an association between our two families because his mother B. is my Godmother.

I find myself wondering what being a Godparent in this day and age means. I think that in the old days, when famine, plague, and pestilence were more common, it was was useful to have two people in the community available to raise a child should the biological parents die or become incapacitated. It also may have been useful to create a relationship between a child and two people outside the nuclear family unit in order to both be an example and provide advice or counsel as that child grew. Baby Ka. will likely grow up on the other side of the United States from us, and, we probably will not be able to have the kind of Godparent/Godchild relationship that existed in the past. Still, I hope we will be able to know Baby Ka., her parents, and her siblings for many years in the future.

One slightly dark cloud in this otherwise rosy picture involves my sister Sa. Sa. and her husband M. had something of a falling out with J. and K. a few years ago — not anything angry or impolite, just a drifting apart for reasons that only they seem know. My sister Sa. can be very sensitive about how people perceive her sometimes, and sometimes (and this is only an opinion) draws incorrect and negative conclusions about how people see her. I hope my sister Sa. doesn’t see this as some kind of slight because she would have been Godmother to Baby Ka. instead of Fiancee S. if she and M. were on better terms with J. and K.

a wake up call

Things at Company O. have been drifting along on auto pilot for me lately. Immediate deadlines for work have been relatively light, and, there have been few duties such as meetings and off-site visits that seemed to require my attention away from my desk. This has afforded me the leisure to do some things like begin the LONG and tedious process of cleaning out my e-mail box at work (only 1500 read messages in my inbox at work). I has also afforded the time to get caught up on my online diary reading.

Now, I hear you cry, isn’t there something that Company O. wants me to be doing other than online diary reading? Yes, there is. As with the ebb and flow of any job, however, there are some slack times. I think this has been one of them. I usually hit some kind of wake up call that snaps me out of my lethargy and back into action though.

I believe that such a call came yesterday. I have been collaboration with two other companies, X. and Y., on a project to evaluate some new hardware for use with Company O.’s product. Each of the three companies (X., Y., and O.) each bring something to the table. We bring our product and expertise for setup and testing of our product. Company X. brings the hardware device, which they manufacture. Company Y. brings the testing environment.

Two colleagues and myself attended a meeting between Company O. and Company Y. yesterday. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the deployment of a specific technology at Company 0. This technology is related to but not necessarily the same as the device produced by Company X.

After suitable introductions were made (including a description of my work to the group with other members of Company Y.), one of my two colleagues, B., proceeded to launch into a 2-5 minute diatribe about how my work with Companies X. and Y. was fundamentally flawed. He went on to say that it was not an approach that he thought should be considered as part of the discussion. He also extracted some validation of his opinion from members of Company Y. that his opinion was correct for a number of common cases.

I could not help but squirm a little through all of this. B. is probably not wrong. I work closely with him on a number of issues, and he is very technically competent. He is also highly opinionated — he will probably either one day become the kind of monomaniac manager that really gets things done, or, he will piss everyone off and get absolutely nowhere. Knowing this, I could both see the truth of B.’s statements regarding my work and even, on some level, why it was appropriate for steering this discussion. At the same time, I REALLY did not need to have my work deconstructed and strongly criticized in front of a group of other people by a colleague sitting right next to me.

The impact of this act by B. did not fully sink in until late last night. Since then, I feel slightly wounded. That I am not more emotional on the subject is that I entered into this project for two reasons: a) the device made by company X. is a cool toy to play with, and b) I thought it might be a good way to raise my profile, network, and gain some useful experience. It is therefore the process of dealing with Company X. and Company Y. that is good for me, but, not the result. So, ultimately, I could care less about the overall usefulness of Company X.’s device.

The wake up call is the need to be effective on a technical level responding to B. His pronounced opinions must be replaced by concrete data the I can help generate. I can also steer this project to deliver data for internal use at Company O. that can help to provide useful information relevant to the meeting I attended yesterday.

To do all that, I need to get my house in order with regard to this and other projects I’m working on. It is a final end to lethargy (for now). I’m glad to see that it is finally here.

the beginners mind

I find myself pondering the Zen Buddhist concept of “beginners mind” and the Christian concept of humility lately. I have the feeling that I’ve lost my way a little bit as a person, and perhaps let my sense of Self get a little out of control. I have been given many gifts: a wonderful family, a great Fiancee, a gifted intellect, and an interesting and challenging occupation that also pays well. These are things to acknowledge, and in some sense be proud of because they are beautiful blessings in my life.

Yet, I also think that my accomplishments have cultivated a certain personal laziness in me that can only be the worst form of pride. My intelligence sometimes makes me forget that there are others who are better informed than myself, or have better judgement than myself. I too often find myself thinking that I know best, when I shouldn’t be looking at life that way.

I recently re-discovered the words of Shinruyu Suzuki and I think the following passage discussing the Zen “beginner’s mind” sums up what I am talking about:

You should not lose your self-sufficient state of mind.
This does not mean a closed mind,
But actually an empty mind and a ready mind.
If your mind is empty,
It is always ready for anything;
It is open to anything.
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities;
In the expert’s mind there are few.
If you discriminate, you limit yourself.
If you are demanding or greedy,
Your mind is not rich and self-sufficient.
If we lose our original self-sufficient mind,
We will lose our precepts.
If you keep your original mind,
The precepts will keep themselves.

My ways are becoming too set; my attitude is becoming too influenced by ego. In the Christian idiom, Jesus calls us to be servants to one another. Part of this process must involve forgetting ourselves and humbly looking to the needs of others. To do that, we must be open to possibility and cultivate the beginners mind.